So the defections have begun. Adrian Graves, the LibDem candidate for West Suffolk in 1997 and 2005 has joined the Conservatives and is urging others to follow him. He said he was switching sides because there had been "a fundamental shift in both the direction and political atmosphere" with the Conservatives under David Cameron's leadership. Mr Graves told the Today programme that the Conservatives were the only "real potential realistic achievable alternative for regime change at the next election". "The majority of British people recognise that a fourth term of a Labour administration, a weaker one, potentially shored up by perhaps a Simon Hughes-led group of Lib Dems is the nightmare scenario," he said. He said he had respect for Mr Hughes but he was perceived as "left of centre". The former candidate claimed that up to three Lib Dem MPs could join him in defecting, and greater numbers of ordinary members. " There is a discussion around Westminster at the moment that there may be up to three MPs considering their position, and I would understand that," he said. But a Lib Dem spokesman said: "Mr Graves was an unsuccessful candidate at the last general election. If Mr Graves truly believes in civil liberties, in the environment, and in social justice he will be sadly disappointed by the Conservative Party."
Footnote: An ICM opinion poll in The Guardian - carried out before Mark Oaten pulled out - suggested Simon Hughes was the top choice to lead the party among ordinary voters, polling 51% to Sir Menzies' 29% and Mr Huhne's 20%. The poll put Mr Hughes even further ahead among Lib Dem voters, on 62%, with Mr Huhne on 20% and Sir Menzies pushed into third place on 18%. That seems very strange and will send a few shudders down the spine of the exulted Lord Rennard.